The President That Never Could

It was a mysterious phenomenon slowly becoming buried in conspiracy cries and stale reruns.

Neither the fans, or the players, or even the president of the United States, could quite understand it.

533 straight losses.

To the 2008 Detroit Lions, who lost 16 straight games: Quit your whining.

To the Charlotte Bobcats, who lost 23 straight games to end the 2011-12 season: It could be worse… 

Up until last Wednesday, Teddy had lost all 533 President’s Races.

What Can’t George Washington Do?

For those who haven’t heard, the President’s Race, featured at every Washington Nationals home game in the fourth inning, is a race between four famous presidents – George “George” Washington, Thomas “Tom” Jefferson, Abraham “Abe” Jefferson, and Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt – dressed in 10-ft foam costumes.

Cheesy? Probably.

Entertaining to drunk baseball fans? You bet.

But the promotional event slowly evolved into one that drew almost as much interest as the Nationals’ baseball home games themselves.

All the Presidents, except Teddy, were winning.

At first, Teddy’s losses were blamed on his lack of speed, or inability to balance himself inside the heavy, unevenly distributed costume.

Then Teddy started losing, even when it seemed like wins were so close he could literally touch the finish line tape.

In a race on June 28, 2008, Teddy was primed for victory when Orioles mascot, “The Bird”, stepped in in the waning moments to tackle him short of the finish line and his first win.

On June 4, 2012, in a SportsNation special “President’s Race”, Teddy built a sizeable lead over the other Presidents, but stopped short of the finish line to celebrate. In the middle of the celebration, George rode by on a van, clubbed Teddy with a baseball bat, and rolled into another victory.

Teddy who used a motor scooter on July 26, 2009 to finish in first place, was disqualified in that race for gaining an advantage.

Meanwhile the losses for Teddy, typical and bizarre alike, were mounting.

Teddy’s Brilliance…Denied

Like Teddy, the Nationals, the “Clippers” of baseball, kept losing. Going back to their Montreal Expos days, the Washington Nationals hadn’t made the playoffs since 1933.

2012 though proved to be different. An upstart Nationals team won 98 games, the division and the best record in baseball.

Like the Nationals, Teddy too turned it around. On the last day of the 2012 regular season, Teddy won his first race. The Phillies Mascot, “Phillie Phanatic”, tackled the other three presidents, as Teddy secured his first victory to the standing ovation of the crowd.

Also, the next Nationals hitter after Teddy won hit a home run.

But did Teddy’s losing streak end then?

Was it a symbolic feat of the Nationals’ turnaround as a franchise? The start of something new?

Was it the sign of something greater to come?

That “greater” though will need to come right now as the Nationals face a 2-1 deficit to the Cardinals, and elimination tomorrow.

Like Teddy, who’s now 1-533, the Nationals are heading in the right direction, even if loss 534 is just around the corner.

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The A’s Contend for a World Series Title Without Breaking the Bank

If money could buy everything, then the Los Angeles Angels, Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox would be popping champagne in preparation for postseason play.

As this wild 2012 Major League Baseball season has shown, however, general managers around the league should be tossing out their checkbooks and looking for young talent capable of carrying a team through the dog days of August into the pennant races of September.

Unfortunately for MLB scouts, heart doesn’t appear in box scores.  Instead it is usually read in the eyes of a few newbies who had been told by baseball pundits that they didn’t have a chance of making the playoffs with intra-division superpowers Texas and Los Angeles to contend with.

The Phillies, Angels, Red Sox, Marlins and Brewers all rank in the top ten for total payroll for the 2012 season.  None of these teams clinched a playoff berth and only the Angels and Brewers came remotely close down the stretch.

The Oakland Athletics, on the other hand, defied all odds, clinching a playoff berth despite doling out the least money of any team in the big leagues in 2012 at $49,137,500.  The New York Yankees also will be seeing postseason action, but have a payroll nearly four times that of Oakland’s at $195,998,004.

After a slow start to the season, the A’s were the MLB’s hottest second half team, earning a huge role in the playoff discussion as the result of posting a 19-5 record in July.

Headed to the postseason for the first time since 2006 in which they lost to the Tigers 4-1 in the ALCS, Oakland now finds itself tied with the Texas Rangers atop the AL West standings.  A win by rookie phenom A.J. Griffin on Wednesday means the A’s will forgo having to play in the one-game Wild Card round, which will be against the second-place finisher in the dangerous AL East.

Many wonder why Oakland, a team that sticks to a strict system of sabermetrics, an intricate series of statistical algorithms used to evaluate on-field performance and player values, to dictate personnel decisions and keep costs down, is even close to playoff caliber.

What has benefited Oakland so much this season has been a lack of funds to overpay free agents; in other words, the A’s have been blessed to be without a prima donna for the 2012 season.

Hitting .289 with 23 homers, Cespedes has proved to be one of the best free-agent pickups of the year.

No player on the team currently makes more than $8 million and the biggest “splurge” of theirs this past offseason was a contract for Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who has been well worth the $6,500,000 paycheck he has earned this season, garnering a decent amount the AL Rookie of the Year talk behind Mike Trout’s lion’s share.

There are even 11 players on the 25-man roster who make under a million dollars.  Would these players like to play for more money?  Certainly–they are human after all.  But the lack of big names and big bucks to assemble the 2012 squad left the A’s with a very important advantage: the ability to have a talented team that can win games in the shadow of big-spending teams that take a great deal of criticism for underperforming.

Even watching a ballgame in Oakland makes it perfectly clear that the A’s have never been about playing big-money baseball.  The O.co Coliseum is arguably the least flashy stadium in the MLB, consisting mostly of concrete and chalk lines for Raiders games.  Despite increases in attendance during their impressive year, much of the upper-deck has remained covered in tarps.

Humble abodes aside, the A’s showed the rest of the majors this season that the phrase “on paper” means relatively little compared to things like a strong farm system and player compatibility.

As the Athletics now look to compete for their first World Series title since the McGwire era, Brad Pitt will still be asking Jonah Hill, “Can these guys get on base?”

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The Depressing Futures of Baseball’s Worst Teams

The MLB playoffs are nigh on hand, and while it is a time where several teams are celebrating their clinched spots or fighting vigorously to earn a spot in their final games, many others haven’t seen the spotlight for months. Here’s a look at how bright or dull a future some of baseball’s worst teams have.

Houston Astros

Houston wins the honor of worst team in baseball for the second straight year and it was their fourth straight season below .500. A lot will be different next season in Houston, but wins may not be part of that. The Astros will be switching to the American League in 2013, and after trading some of their best players (Hunter Pence, Wandy Rodriguez, Carlos Lee) over the past two season, there isn’t a lot left in Houston to build around. Jose Altuve is the lone bright spot on the team and he’s basically nothing more than a solid leadoff hitter. He’s also not tall enough to go on half the rides at Disneyland. Unless the Astros dig up some savior prospect from their farm system, it could be a while until this team is relevant.

These uniforms are worse than the Astros themselves.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs have a bit more reason for optimism than the Astros. With some decent young pieces in Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and Anthony Rizzo, Chicago has some flexibility to trade for some big name players. And if they choose to keep that young core, the trio may develop into a strong group. But the Cubs still have a long way to go. Their pitching staff is beyond lackluster and their best power hitter, Alfonso Soriano, is getting up there in years.

Colorado Rockies

Playing the majority of their season without their best player, Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies’ season was basically over the moment he was injured. But if he is able to return to form next season, this team may not be all that bad. Carlos Gonzalez continues to hit well and the emergence of Dexter Fowler and Jordan Pecheco gave Colorado three players who hit above .300. Pitching remains a problem, however. The Rockies tried to work with a four man rotation and a strict 75 pitch limit for their starters. This caused them to burn through their bullpen pretty quickly and pretty clearly did not work at all. If they can figure out how to give up less than 5 runs every game, the Rockies have the offense to be a decent club.

Miami Marlins

The beautiful mug of the man riding the Marlins into the ground.

All the hype the Marlins built with their offseason spending pretty much disappeared the moment the season started. How Ozzie Guillen still has his job is beyond me. Within the first week of the season, he mentioned his support for Fidel Castro. For a team whose fan base consists of a large number of Cubans, that’s kind of a stupid thing to say, especially since it has nothing to do with baseball whatsoever. Furthermore, he has bashed his players continually, most recently Heath Bell, saying he doesn’t respect him. His players have quit on him and its shown, as most of the Marlins are having some of the worst years of their careers. With Hanley Ramirez traded and a significant portion of the salary cap invested in their offseason signings, Miami doesn’t have a lot of tradeable assets or flexibility to rebuild. Their first step should be finding a new manager.

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NFL Week Four: Hits and Misses

Miss: New York Jets Offense

Mark Sanchez, formerly known as “Sanchize”, was supposed to save the franchise. In his first two seasons, he was the “it” guy, and now he’s the fall guy. The Wildcat offense has been even worse than Sanchez, who is struggling to even complete 50% of his passes. Sanchez threw for just 103 yards with an INT and a fumble. Meanwhile, the run game has fallen far from its 2009/2010 dominance. With no end in sight for the Jets offensive struggles, Rex Ryan’s dream of a Super Bowl run has slowly become a nightmare only four games in. That nightmare is only just beginning, as the 2-2 Jets face the 4-0 Texans and the 2-2 Patriots within the next three weeks.

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Can the Falcons go undefeated?? Too soon? Too lofty? It’s hard to doubt Matty Ice the way he’s playing right now

Hit: Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan seems to redefine the word “WOW” every week. Down one with 1:09 remaining and no timeouts, the Falcons started at their own one. That wasn’t an issue for “Matty Ice”. From his own end zone, Ryan held firm in the pocket and launched a deep ball for Roddy White, who made the spectacular grab down the field. After a few more accurate throws by Ryan, Matt Bryant kicked the game winning field goal. Just like that, Ryan’s team is 4-0 and he has solidified his position as the game’s best QB right now. 

Miss: Buffalo Bills Defense 

That much-improved defense of the Bills has fallen far short of expectations. On Sunday the Patriots scored 52 points on the Bills, including 35 straight second half points. This Bills defense is the same defense that gave up 48 points to the Jets in week one. In the offseason, the Bills, a small market team, signed defensive end Mario Williams to a $100 million+ contract. That investment has looked like a bust so far, as Williams, a former No. 1 overall pick, has only 1.5 sacks so far.

Hit: Arizona Cardinals

It didn’t look pretty, but it looked like a win for the Arizona Cardinals. Against Miami, they were outgained 480-297 in total yards and trailed 13-0 at halftime. Late turnovers by QB Ryan Tannehill, who threw for 431 yards, one short of the rookie record, did the Dolphins in. Under pressure, Tannehill threw an INT on the Dolphins first possession in OT to set up a game-winning field goal. The Cardinals have now won 9 of their last 11, and are 4-0 on the season.

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The Lions Find Themselves in an Early-Season Hole

The last time I ever went to an NFL football game, Cincinnati Bengals orange and black dominated the crowd.

Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson still made for a team to be reckoned with in those days and the Bengals defeated an anemic Joey Harrington-led Lions squad 41-17.

What I forgot to mention was that this game was actually a Lions home game at Ford Field and that fans were wearing Bengals colors out of protest.

Hundreds of Lions fans who considered themselves fed up with the Ford family and general manager Matt Millen donned paper bags for the entirety of the Lions’ final home game of the season and led painful chants of, “FIRE MILLEN!”

How long did the demonstration last after the game’s conclusion?  I certainly don’t know, as my Dad and I decided to leave mid-way through the fourth quarter, feeling we had seen enough.

I was only 12 at the time, but “Fire Millen” still rings in my ears from time to time.

The most depressing part about this Lions memory—the 2005 season was just the tip of the iceberg named Lions Mediocrity.   After firing coach Steve Mariucci at the end of the 2005 season, the Lions went on to post a 12-52 record over the next four seasons, including an 0-16 2008 campaign that featured the quarterbacking prowess of Dan Orlovsky (don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of him either at the time).

Detroit had a football team that was the laughing stock of the NFL and hadn’t made the playoffs since 1999.  Even then, the franchise managed to take away the competitive spirit of the NFL’s greatest running back, Barry Sanders, with a constant carousel of quarterbacks and a losing attitude that forced him to retire early.

Considering this depressing history, 2011 was a breath of fresh air for Lions fans everywhere.  New quarterback Matthew Stafford went from a first-round bust with a bum shoulder to one of the best quarterbacks in the league.  Ndamukong Suh was one of the most feared players in the league and Calvin Johnson went from being called a good wide receiver to Megatron.

The Lions finished with more than nine wins for the first time since 1995 and it looked as though the franchise had finally turned a corner.  It didn’t even matter that they were thrashed in a Wild Card game matchup against the New Orleans Saints.  Being able to say the word “playoffs” in Detroit was a statement of pride in and of itself.

Megatron has been a huge part of the Lions’ resurgence.

This year, the Lions have begun to realize that consistency is central to growing a perennial powerhouse.  Wins are never guaranteed, and that’s a major reason why Detroit now finds itself 1-3 after losing to a young Minnesota Vikings team.

To revert back to form for the Lions is to become content with “almosts.”  The team has not lost by more than eight points in any one of the three losses, but saying, “Hey, at least we were close” is a curse that the Lions have accomplished far too much to fall victim to.

Their next game, in Philadelphia two weeks from now, could have major playoff implications for the Lions.  The scary thing is it’ll only be Week 7.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s no question the Lions have made tremendous strides since my last live NFL experience in 2005.  But what they have to realize now is that for their team and the City of Detroit, going back is not an option.

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MLB Award Predictions

The MLB regular season is less than a week from its conclusion and the races for the various awards are even closer than than that of the final playoff spots. With such a close competition between these top players, a strong last few games from any of them could put them ahead in the final stretch. Here’s a look at how the awards might pan out.

Nice shirt Miguel. Sadly, you’d probably be the best player on the Pistons. But Mike Trout is still better than you.

AL MVP: Mike Trout

The decision between Trout and Miguel Cabrera is the toughest one on this list. Cabrera is a currently a home run away from the Triple Crown and has bigger numbers in the power categories. Yet Trout’s all-around impact on the game, from his hitting to his base stealing to his incredible robbed home runs give him the edge here. And for a leadoff hitter, 29 homers and 78 RBI are pretty darn impressive power numbers.

NL MVP: Buster Posey

This race was close for a while, with Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen in the mix, but Posey has pulled away over the last month. Braun still has had an impressive season, leading the NL in home runs and RBI, yet the Brewers are unlikely to make the playoffs, which hurts Braun’s chances. Posey, meanwhile, is leading the majors in batting average (excluding Melky Cabrera of course) and on base percentage, and is also in the top three in slugging percentage and on base percentage. And he’s done all this while playing the most grueling position in the game.

AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander

As boring as it is to have a repeat winner, there’s no way around the fact that Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball right now. He had another great season, leading the league in strikeouts and being among the leaders in WHIP and ERA while also pitching the most innings.

NL Cy Young: R.A. Dickey

At age 37, Dickey’s success this season is fairly amazing. He’s pitched the best year of his career, mastering the art of the knuckleball while leading the league in strikeouts (as of now) and amongst the leaders in ERA, WHIP, and wins. Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Cain could all give Dickey some competition in this award.

Trout’s rookie campaign has been nothing short of spectacular.

AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout

This is far and away the easiest decision of the bunch. Mike Trout’s rookie season has been one of the best in history. His arrival in the league was overshadowed by that of Bryce Harper, but all that attention has shifted to him since then. Yoenis Cespedes also had a nice year, but for a player touted for his power, Trout out-homered him.

NL Rookie of the Year: Todd Frazier

Frazier played in 41 games last year, but in his first full season this year he was a major reason for Cincinnati’s success. While Harper had more hype and attention throughout the season, Frazier simply did more, putting up bigger numbers than Harper and doing so in less at bats.

AL Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter

Looking at Baltimore’s lineup, it comes as a bit of a shock how successful they have been. After finishing with the fourth worst record in the MLB a year ago, the Orioles now hold the seventh best. Despite their shortcomings as a team, Showalter has shown them how to win and they’ve learned well.

NL Manager of the Year: Ozzie Guillen

Just kidding. Dusty Baker gets the nod here. Baker did another great job with the Reds this year. Cincinnati clinched an NL Central division with two worthy competitors in the Brewers and Cardinals and currently have a 10 game lead in the division. And to do this while missing key players Joey Votto, Scott Rolen and Ryan Ludwick missing significant time with injuries.

Buster Posey has shown that if you strike him down, he will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Adam Dunn

Dunn was arguably the worst player in the league last year, hitting an abysmal .159 and just 11 home runs. He’s marginally better in batting average this year (up to .207), but his power numbers are back. He’s blasted 41 home runs, driven in 94 runs and his ability to take walks (he leads the AL with 104) has given him a respectable OBP which is pretty impressive given how terrible his batting average is.

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Buster Posey

Another obvious choice. Posey’s injury last season looked like it could be career threatening, or at the very least put his ability to play catcher in jeopardy. Instead, Posey returned better than ever, catching one of the league’s best pitching staffs while also handling the brunt of the offensive workload for the Giants. An incredible season for Posey.

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Just How Bad Did Roger Goodell and The NFL Screw Up?

Finally the NFL did what was right.

Finally Commissioner Roger Goodell practiced what he preached.

And finally, the real referees will return to their jobs.

It took a national televised debacle, one the likes the NFL has never seen before, to end the stalemate between the NFL and the league’s referees.

That now infamous play has changed this NFL season forever.

The Packers are 1-2, tied for last in the NFC North instead of being 2-1 and tied for first place. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are 2-1 and in position to make a run at the postseason.

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One referee signaled touchdown while the other referee signaled timeout, which usually happens after an interception.

For the NFL and Goodell, it can’t get any worse. Their refusal to budge and send competent referees to the job has altered the seasons of the both of these teams, and the entire playoffs. Now the league has to hope that both the Packers and the Seahawks miss the playoffs by more than one game so that playoff spots, playoff seedings and home field advantages aren’t impacted. If not, then the whole season has been tainted and compromised by referee mishaps.

While that stain on the season has a chance to fade, the stain on Roger Goodell’s legacy is permanent.

Goodell, commissioner since 2006, built his reputation on protecting the integrity of the league and making player safety a cornerstone of rule changes. He delivered heavy punishments to players like Adam “Pacman” Jones and the Michael Vick for disgracing the game. He instilled rules that banned late hits on the quarterback, head-to-head hits and the hitting a player up high.

However Goodell’s decision to allow heavily outmatched replacement officials to referee NFL games went against both of those principles.

By not putting the highest quality of officials on the field, Goodell disgraced the reputation of the game and allowed the failures of those officials to make the league a laughing matter on television networks nationwide.

The replacement referees weren’t even from the highest level of college. Rather they from non-BCS conferences in Division 1, lower college divisions, junior colleges and high school.

Aside their overuse of pass interference penalties though, the replacement referees penalties called relatively the same amount of penalties as the actual referees did up until this point in 2011.

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Hines Ward has some competition for league’s dirtiest offensive player…

Instead, the problem was their inability to control the game. From numerous after-the-play cheap shots to unnecessary player scrums, control was far from the norm.

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III told the media that St. Louis Rams defenders hit him several times after the play ended. Video evidence confirmed his remarks.

In week two, Golden Tate delivered a vicious hit on a defenseless player while his quarterback broke the pocket to run the ball. Tate, who wasn’t flagged, should have been called for block-in-the-back. A week later, Tate pushed a defenseless Green Bay defender on the final play on Monday Night’s game.

In all these situations, player safety remained second to Goodell and the league’s dispute with the regular referees. Luckily no player was seriously injured.

The replacement referees put the NFL players’ safety in danger, and Goodell and the league allowed that to happen.

This weekend the regular referees will take over but the damage has been done.

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